Postmodernist Fiction by Brian McHale

Postmodernist writing models or simulates death; it produces simulacra of death through confrontations between worlds, through transgressions of ontological levels or boundaries, or through vacillation between different kinds and degrees of "reality." Thus postmodernist writing may, after all, meet John Gardner's criteria for moral fiction: "True moral fiction is a laboratory experiment too difficult and dangerous to try in the World but safe and important in the mirror image of reality in the writer's mind." Certainly death must the example par excellence of something "too difficult and dangerous to try in the World," which makes fictional "laboratory experiments" with death perhaps the most important and valuable of all. Postmodernist writing enables us to experiment with imagining our own deaths, to rehearse our own deaths. We have all but lost the ars moriendi; we no longer have anyone to teach us how to die well, or at least no one we can trust or take seriously. Postmodernist writing may be one of our last resources for preparing ourselves, in imagination, for the single act which we must assuredly all perform unaided, with no hope of doing it over if we get it wrong the first time.